In the end it was a fever that pried the life from Josiah Webster's stubborn, gnarled hands. It came swiftly in the night and he died during fitful sleep, his wife's hand pressed against his forehead. It was a good death, if there is such a thing. And for Josiah, it could've been far worse.
All in all, it was surprising how long the man had lived. His death came at the ripe age of seventy-one. Taking his lifestyle into account, it was impressive. Of course, Vikram noted that the man's obituary said no such thing.
He skimmed the text, searching for something, anything of vague interest.
Best known for his work as the editor of the Weekly Charade...
Vikram skipped the first two paragraphs. Then, on second thoughts, he skipped to the final line. He knew what it would say but he didn't think that he could stand to read through the half-lies that summed up what was known of his father's life. He was struggling to remember why he'd started reading in the first place.
Survived by his wife and two children.
Danny's hand came to rest on Vikram's shoulder.
Dammit. He had been. Vikram felt tears pricking his eyes and promptly took Danny's hand. He stared blankly at the page, not really seeing the words.
"Yeah," he breathed.
It was impressive how clearly the lie could come through in one word. Danny pulled up a chair next to the workshop desk and sat beside him.
"It's alright to be upset you know," he said gently.
Vikram nodded but he was barely listening.
Danny's eyes were soft and sympathetic but his lip twitched, showing hints of a smile.
"I bet you Ben is bawling his eyes out right now," he said.
Vikram couldn't help his own grin.
Danny nodded, feigning seriousness.
"I bet you."
Vikram let out a slight chuckle.
He didn't know why he was so upset. He'd never got on with his father and Josiah had never been subtle in his evident disapproval, whether it was of Vikram's work or his relationships. They'd parted ways long before the man's soul had parted from this realm.
"You know I'm gonna want in on that," said a third voice.
Vikram raised his gaze from the newspaper.
In the doorway of the gallery stood a tall blonde. She was large in more ways than one and her face was plastered with what Vikram could only assume was some form of fake tan. It made her look a bit like a baboon but he knew that she would not respond kindly if he mentioned it. He'd leave that to Danny. He could tell from the way the man was appraising her that it was only a matter of time before the teasing started.
"Hi Hannah," he greeted.
Hannah strode towards them, artfully dodging the numerous canvases littered about the floor. Danny grinned.
"Uh - Hannah - I don't know if you know but you've got something orange, just here?"
He gestured to his face.
"Just - you know - everywhere?"
Hannah rolled her eyes and gave him a playful shove. Danny nearly fell off his chair.
"How are you doing, Vik?" she asked, eyes full of concern.
"Alright," he replied.
She glanced at the workshop briefly before returning her focus to him. Half of the canvases on the floor had been wrenched in half, another third had large holes punched into their centres. Most of them were wrecked beyond repair. Her eyes narrowed.
"I can see that," she said. "Art therapy helping any?"
Danny pulled a face but they both chose to ignore it.
"A little," said Vikram, not meeting her eyes.
He turned to point to his latest creation. Hannah's eyes bulged.
"What is that?" she asked.
"That's what I said," Danny muttered.
In the corner of the room was a pile of canvases. They were all broken in different ways to form a make-shift fort.
"It's a castle," Vikram sighed. "I really don't see why that is so hard to grasp!"
"Well you know what Trace is gonna ask," said Hannah. "Will it sell?"
Vikram was familiar with Tracy's mantra, although he didn't agree with it.
If it don't sell, it's gotta go.
It was her way of saying it's your funeral.
"If it doesn't sell at least the kids will like it," said Danny, trying to make light of the situation as usual.
Vikram tried and failed to scowl at him. Trust Danny to be optimistic. He wondered, not for the first time why he, a pure-born pessimist, had been drawn to the man in the first place.
Danny squeezed his hand and flashed him a reassuring smile, the dimple creasing by the corner of his mouth. Vikram smiled back, unable to help himself.
Perhaps that was why.
Hannah looked at them knowingly.
"Danny, can I talk to you for a minute?" she asked.
With considerable reluctance, Danny tugged his gaze away from Vikram to focus on her.
"We're talking right now," he pointed out.
Her eyes flitted to Vikram and back.
"You know I'm just gonna tell him everything when I get back in here, right?" he said.
Hannah grabbed his arm and dragged him from the main area of the workshop, out into the gallery corridors. Danny nearly tripped on several broken canvases as she hauled him to the exit.
She closed the door behind them. Vikram sighed, wondering what they would bicker about this time. He knew only too well that it was the way siblings functioned. He just wished that they weren't so obviously going to talk about him.
Now that Danny's soothing presence was gone it was near impossible to prevent his thoughts from returning to dwindle on his father.
Cling much? You're such a girl!
Vikram shook his head, trying to rid his mind of Ben's voice. He had no place there.
Back to daddy dearest.
Vikram's hand went to the nearest pencil and he held it over the blank canvas in front of him. His hand was poised, ready to strike but no inspiration came. He let out a soft groan. Wasn't emotional turmoil supposed to summon his muse? It seemed as if the death of his father had only muted it.
Instead of putting the pencil to paper he used it to flick at the edges of the material, driving marks deeper and deeper into its surface. The indentations weren't as deep as the holes he'd left on the other canvases in the room but he knew that if he pressed much harder they would be. Sighing, he put the pencil down and placed his head in his hands. Tracy would not be pleased.
A low buzz interrupted his thoughts and Vikram frowned. What the hell was that?
Suddenly he could hear the voices of Hannah and Danny clear as day. It was as if a hole had been punched in the wall.
"So you haven't got anywhere then?" Hannah snapped.
"Oh yeah sure I have," said Danny, his voice dripping with sarcasm. "What do you think? Now's not the time!"
"It's never the time is it?"
Vikram could virtually hear her place her hands on her hips.
"No, you fucking listen to me Danny, when will it be the right time? You keep saying when he's ready but I think you're getting your pronouns confused!" she shrieked.
"What's a pronoun?" Danny asked, genuine bewilderment in his voice.
"This isn't about him. It's about you. You're not ready and it's not fair to him!" she exclaimed.
Vikram frowned. He wished he knew now, more than ever, what they were arguing about this time but as soon as the thought crossed his mind the pair fell silent.
He raised his head from his hands and stared at the stabbed canvas. Where had his pencil gone? He could've sworn that he'd left it right -
- the door swung open with gusto. Well, further open. Evidently it hadn't been as firmly closed as Vikram had thought. Danny marched back into the workshop. He didn't seem to care about whether he trod on the canvases or not. Hannah didn't follow him. Vikram opened his mouth to ask whether he was alright but Danny simply grabbed his hand, pulled him to his feet and breached the gap between them with his lips.
It was a longer kiss than usual and Vikram was more than a little taken aback but he wasn't about to protest. Eventually Danny pulled away.
"What was that for?" Vikram asked.
"Let's go get lunch," said Danny, pulling him towards the door.
As the pair left the gallery neither of them noticed Vikram's forgotten pencil. It hung in mid-air above the canvas.
As Vikram closed the door behind them, the pencil fell to the floor with a surprising amount of force. It wedged itself in the centre of the floorboard, standing on end, its tip encased in the glazed wood.